Sydney Kirby


By the start of the First World War, the Kirby's were a well established and relatively prosperous family at Ivy House Farm, Long Green, Wortham, a large village some six miles to the west of Hoxne. According to the census of 1871, Sydney's grandfather, Robert, was farming 165 acres and employing six men and three boys whilst John William, Sydney's father, was employed as a general clerk in a solicitors office. By 1881 Robert had died and the land was being farmed by Susanah, his widow, with the help of John Russell, Sydney's elder brother.

In December 1883 John married Anna Maria Rash, the daughter of the local miller, and by 1891 they were living and farming at Ivy House with a growing family of three sons and two daughter. Sydney Herbert was born in 1893, followed by another son, Edwin Rash. It is clear that education was taken seriously in the Kirby household. Sydney's eldest brother, John Russell, attended Eye Grammar School and the 1911 records another brother, Edwin Rash, as a boarder at the school. As a seventeen year old bank clerk in 1911 it is likely that Sydney had also attended the school.

We do not know when Sydney enlisted but it was likely quite early in the War as he was initially posted to the 7th Battalion Middlesex Regiment which itself was merged with the 8th Battalion between June and August 1915. With no further records available we do not know when Sydney was transferred out of the Middlessex and into the 24th Battalion Royal Fusiliers.

The 24th (Service) Battalion (2nd Sportsmen's) Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) was like the 23rd (Service) Battalion (1st Sportsmen's) raised by Emma Cuncliffe-Owen who, in September 1914, hired the India Room in the Hotel Cecil, The Strand and employed a dozen ex-Army officers to act as recruiting officers. Clearly a forceful personality she placed advertisements in order to raise her Battalions, the London Times advert stating:

"Sportsmen, aged 19 to 45, upper and middle class only. Wanted at once. Entrance fee 3 guineas, or kit. No other financial obligations".

In reality the mix was far more varied and both Battalions were later considered part of the famous "pals" battalions, although in this instance the recruits were keen sportsmen or worked in the media industry rather than coming from a particular geographical area or profession.

Engaged throughout the Somme Offensive on the 13th November 2016 the battalion took part in an attack of the German lines between Serre and Beaumont Hamel. Advancing a mere 20 yards behind their own artillery barrage the Battalion occupied the German front line but vicious trench fighting ensued and it is probable that Sydney died during this period of the attack. The Battalion records 23 other ranks killed in November with another 5 dying from wounds, of the men killed 22 died on the 13th November. Over 100 were wounded and another 50 listed as missing. Casualties amongst officers were also heavy, 3 were killed another died of wounds whilst 9 were wounded.

Sydney has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, he was 23 years old. Maria had previously lost her eldest son, John Russell Kirby, who died of wound received at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. John is recorded on the roll of Honour in Wortham whilst Sydney is commemorated at Hoxne.